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Ruth Newman had a lot of heartbreak in her life, but also a lot of happiness. The happiness: she married her husband, Adrian, a process worker, in 1966 – it would have been their 54th wedding anniversary this October. The heartbreak: their daughter, Rachel, died of a brain tumour when she was three. After Rachel died, they had a son, Gary, now 42. “She was very protective of me,” says Gary, a university admin worker. “Because of Rachel. She’d tell me to wrap up constantly. She was always worried about me, even when I was an adult.”
Ruth liked to bake jam buns or Victoria sponges. She would do the weekly shop with Adrian and then have lunch in the cafe at Morrisons. They ate out twice a week, at the local Harvester or a pub. She read murder mysteries and romance novels. An odd quirk: Ruth hated the colour green and would not allow anything green in the house, except for plants. “She thought it was unlucky,” says Gary. “She’d had a green car and it had caused her no end of bother.” The house was full of ornaments of cats. “She was cat mad,” observes Gary, drily. “I’m looking at a cat ornament right now.” (He has been shielding with his father since March – both men have underlying health issues.)
When Gary was hospitalised for a year in 2015, Ruth visited him every day. “She’d bring snacks and clothes,” he says. “She was running a laundry for me, basically, so I wasn’t wearing horrible hospital gowns.” One evening, Gary lied and told her that he had friends visiting that evening, because he could see how tired she was and he wanted to give her a night off. “She was furious when she found out,” he says. “She said: ‘Never do that again.’”
Ruth had heart failure and in February 2020 she had a heart bypass operation at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. The operation went well, and Ruth was moved to Royal Gwent hospital in Newport to recover. She was still in hospital when the first case of Covid was confirmed on 28 February. On 13 March, the Royal Gwent discharged Ruth. “The hospital was like Dunkirk or something,” Gary says. “The amount of people they were shipping out. The entire hospital was being emptied, it felt like. It was chaotic. Every ward you walked past, there were people sitting on their beds with their bags beside them, ready to be shipped out.”
At home, Ruth appeared to be recovering well. Carers from the council came in to help her wash and dress. On 21 March, Ruth started complaining of a cold, and shivering. Gary called an ambulance, which took her to the Royal Gwent. “They put her in a ward with five suspected Covid cases for 48 hours,” Gary says. “You could hear other patients coughing constantly in the background.” After receiving a negative Covid test, Ruth was moved to another ward.
Gary believes his mother contracted Covid in the initial ward. (The time from exposure to symptom onset is typically between three and 14 days, meaning that Ruth could have tested negative for Covid despite having already contracted the virus.)
On 1 April, Gary received the news he had been dreading: his mum had tested positive for Covid. Adrian and Gary initially communicated with Ruth by video call. “I’ll be honest, the calls were devastating,” Gary says. “At first, she was still herself and could talk to us and understand us. But they got less and less lucid. Towards the end, all we could hear was the sound of her trying to breathe – the rattling noises. On the last call, she didn’t know we were there.” Ruth died on 8 April, aged 74.
Having seen up close how hard their jobs are, Gary does not blame the hospital or its staff. “I have no malice towards the doctors and nurses who work there,” he says. “I saw on the video calls to my mum how stressed they were. Some of the nurses were tearful. I could hear the emotion in their voices.” Instead, he blames the system. “The NHS has been underfunded for years,” Gary says. “Hospitals were unprepared for what happened – and still are, for this new wave.”
In a statement, the Aneurin Bevan university health board, which runs the hospital, said: “Sadly, Mrs Newman passed away at the beginning of the pandemic when we were still trying to understand the virus and the impact. We have learned so much from the first wave and we are now putting this into practice.”
Because Gary and Adrian are high risk, neither was allowed to attend Ruth’s funeral. “We had to sit in a car and watch the funeral from the side of the road,” says Gary, voice tightening in pain. “It was devastating.” When reports emerged that Dominic Cummings had broken the lockdown rules to travel to a second home in Durham, he was incensed. “The message it sent to the public, who have made so many sacrifices, was appalling,” he says.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘We had to watch the funeral from the side of the road’: Ruth Newman, died aged 74, of Covid-19 | Coronavirus